The occupiers of UCSC’s Kerr Hall were barely out of the building Sunday morning when the Santa Cruz administration launched a line of attack that’ll be familiar to observers of last year’s NYU and New School occupations: they said the students trashed the place.

On Sunday, a university spokesman claimed that the occupiers had done thousands of dollars in damage, and those costs, he said, would require the university to divert money “from budgets already strained by budget cuts.”

On Monday, administrators upped the ante. The students had done more than fifty thousand dollars of damage to the building, they said, not including labor costs for cleanup. They posted photos of the mess on the university’s website, and said that some items appeared to have been stolen.

On Tuesday activist Brian Malone posted an open letter in response to the administration’s claims. He said that most of the photos showed “little more than some leftover food and a bunch of paper products in need of recycling,” and that the rest — an overturned refrigerator, some teleconference equipment dumped on the floor, a broken table — would be easily easily fixed or replaced.

Now, I don’t doubt that UCSC is exaggerating its damage estimates. They have no reason to lowball their figures, and every reason to inflate them. As to whether the telecom equipment was “ripped out,” as UCSC claims, or “disconnected,” as Malone suggests, I can’t say either way. The occupiers apparently did use furniture and equipment as material for their barricades, so I expect there was some damage done there.

But I’m not interested in second-guessing strategies or tactics. That’s a big question, and it’s a question for another post. What I do want to offer is one small, simple piece of advice.

If you’re in a long-term occupation, clean up after yourself.

Malone says that tidying up the garbage the Kerr Hall occupiers left behind “would take a small crew no more than one or two hours.” But there were seventy students in that building for three days, and they knew that the cops could bust in at any time. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have been cleaning things up as they went.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to one of the students who occupied the school of the humanities and fine arts at the University of Zagreb for thirty-five days this spring. He said that the students in that occupation prided themselves on keeping the place sparkling — they swept and mopped every morning, broken equipment was repaired, replaced, or put in storage, and every occupier was expected to clean up his or her messes as he or she created them. Their occupation was based on the premise that this was the students’ university, he said,  and they wanted to show the media and the community that they cared for that university enough to keep it clean, organized, and in working order.

Any time you’re occupying university space, you’re at risk of being evicted or arrested on a moment’s notice. If you’re dumped out and you’ve left the place a mess, you can expect that the administration will carefully photograph every tipped-over Solo cup and crumpled bread wrapper, and post the photos on the net. That’s their job, and that’s what they’re going to do. You can choose to give them that ammunition, or you can choose not to.

Choose not to.